The Apple family tree: Apple platforms through the years

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High price, limited third-party support, and a defective batch of early Apple III units led to tepid adoption of the Apple III and to its ultimate discontinuation in 1984. However, its flexible and well-received operating system (SOS, short for Sophisticated Operating System) served as the inspiration for ProDOS on the Apple II, which helped to extend that platform’s lifespan into the early 1990s.

Apple Lisa (1983 to 1985)

Tomislav Medak
Apple Lisa

CPU class: Motorola 68K
OS: Lisa OS, SCO Xenix
Development status: Open
Platform size: 2

The Apple Lisa met its ultimate genesis when Steve Jobs and a few other Apple employees took a stroll through Xerox PARC, a research and development center for the copier giant. There, they saw an advanced machine called the Alto which utilized a bitmapped graphical interface and a pointing device called a mouse.

Apple soon created its own bitmapped windowing platform, the Lisa, which became one of the first two commercial microcomputer systems equipped with a graphical user interface (GUI). Its high price ($10,000 when first launched ), slow speed, and troublesome proprietary floppy drives hobbled the platform out of the gate.

Reacting to criticism, Apple redesigned the Lisa with a new floppy drive the following year—while simultaneously launching the far cheaper GUI-based Macintosh. Brisk sales of Macintosh over the Lisa doomed the Lisa platform to obscurity.

Of the few customers who purchased a Lisa, most of them were satisfied with a suite of graphical office tools that Apple included with the computer. Low adoption rates made third party software development on the platform unattractive, and very few third-party applications actually shipped for this series of large and expensive machines.

Macintosh (1984 to present)

The first Mac

Development status: Open
Platform size: 210+

The Macintosh platform first emerged in 1984, and it has been with us in some form or another ever since. Over these past 22 years, the platform has seen three major hardware shifts (those between 68K, PowerPC, and x86 CPUs) and one major operating system shift (between Classic OS and OS X).

While some could argue that these three CPU types constitute three separate platforms (and technically, they do), Apple accompanied each hardware shift with emulation layers that preserved backwards compatibility, thus maintaining the spirit of Macintosh between hardware revisions.

Within these three hardware subplatforms, the Mac ecosystem is further subdivided by the use of different operating systems such as the Unix-based A/UX on 68K machines, and of course, the switch between the classic OS and OS X in the PowerPC era.

With ample third-party support and literally hundreds of family members, the Macintosh stands as Apple’s most popular platform to date.

Macintosh 68K (1984 to 1996)

CPU class: Motorola 68K
OS: Mac OS, A/UX
Subplatform size: 72

Macintosh PowerPC (1994 to 2006)

CPU class: PowerPC
OS: Mac OS, Mac OS X
Subplatform size: 87

Macintosh x86 (2006 to present)

CPU class: Intel x86
OS: Mac OS X
Subplatform size: 51+

Apple IIgs (1986 to 1992)
Apple IIgs

CPU class: WDC 65816
OS: ProDOS 16, System 1.x to System 6.x
Development status: Open
Platform size: 1

Far from being just another derivative Apple II product, the IIgs platform is actually a superset of the earlier 8-bit platform. This post-Mac machine expanded significantly upon its 8-bit processor by using a 16-bit processor that allowed utilization of more system memory and faster program execution. A new graphics chip and an impressive sound synthesizer further differentiated the IIgs from its 8-bit cousins.

As a member of the Apple II family, the IIgs’s WDC 65816 processor contained an emulation mode that could execute programs written for the original Apple II’s 6502 processor at roughly twice the speed, thus carrying on the vast legacy of Apple II software products.

This new processor, however, also allowed the creation of newer, more powerful applications specifically designed to take advantage of hardware enhancements unique to the IIgs. Accordingly, Apple created a special 16-bit operating system (ProDOS 16) and later introduced a colorful graphical user interface reminiscent of the Macintosh.

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